How to Find the Best Shopping Online

  • Share
  • Read Later

A LOT LIKE CHRISTMAS: At an fulfillment center

Last Friday, retailers incited near-riots among post-Thanksgiving shoppers by slashing prices and offering other special "doorbuster" deals to bricks-and-mortar-bound consumers willing to rise before dawn and wait in line in the cold. If you slept in or otherwise missed out amid the Black Friday frenzy, take heart: you can still find some great deals online.

Many Web merchants waited until the Monday after Thanksgiving—dubbed "Black Monday" or "Cyber Monday" by retail analysts—to introduce their holiday sales specials. Others marked the day by extending or expanding the deals they launched before most turkeys were even in the oven. Whichever way they play it, one thing has become clear: it's the official start of online shopping season. "It's the first sales spike of the year," says Jeremy Shermak of ComScore Networks, an e-commerce tracking firm. ComScore reported that online spending on Monday reached $485 million, a 26 percent jump from the same day last year (the figure excludes travel). Overall traffic to shopping sites increased by 35 percent, according to Web hosting firm Akamai Technologies.

Online sales have been brisk every year on this day since Internet shopping hit the mainstream in the late 90s, pumped up by better sites and faster Internet connections. Why Monday? It's when Americans head back to their office computers with high-speed Net access—only 60% of home Web users have high-speed hookups, according to ComScore—after the long weekend, with holiday shopping on the brain.

The question is, where to start? Odds are good that your favorite online store is running some sort of special (discounts, gifts with purchase, free shipping) today—43% of Web retailers said they planned to do so, according to a survey. Comparison shopping search engines—sites that make it their mission to ferret out the best prices (and are more popular than ever, attracting 54.7 million visitors in October alone, 52% more traffic than the same month last year) may not have up-to-the-minute information, so it's always best to double-check price and availability directly on the seller's site., for example, has handy "Go To Store" buttons next to each search return.

Because each comparison site pulls together its information in a different way, each is likely to deliver a unique set of search returns, so try several:, and are among the most popular. focuses on consumer electronics and computer gear and delivers expert reviews along with its "Compare Prices" feature.

Many of these comparison shopping sites—particularly newcomers breaking into what's become a very competitive field—will help you zero in on sales. For example, click "Coupons" on the home page of (a new service that's still in beta); there you can browse various offers from specific merchants and use the direct links to get to the relevant web page on the seller's own website (like Circuit City's $400 rebate on TVs). highlights coupons and discounts in its search results. has a separate On Sale section. And offers a downloadable toolbar that alerts you when it finds the item you're considering for a lower price somewhere else. Truly dedicated bargain hunters should do some digging at and Both sites post timely info on who's got what for how much, along with tips and tricks aimed at saving you even more money.

If you absolutely must go to a physical store, let help you plan a surgical strike. The site's primary purpose is not to handle online transactions but to search for items in stores within a 10-mile radius of your zip code. Click the sparkly "Holiday" button at the top of the home page to browse current sales. Or check, which lists what's on sale near you (and how long the sale will last) as advertised in store circulars. Neither site can tell you whether the store that carries the item still has it in stock, but they do provide addresses, phone numbers, maps and directions. With any luck, you won't have to stand in line outside.